FAST: Illegal file sharers should be struck off net

The Government has threatened to crack down on illegal file sharing with new legislation, if the industry doesn’t find its own way to protect rights holders. Now, in an exclusive interview with PC Pro, John Lovelock, the director general of the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), offers his own, highly-controversial, remedy to the problem.

FAST: Illegal file sharers should be struck off net

How do you propose ISPs tackle the problem of file-sharing and illegal downloads?

We understand ISPs can’t monitor all the content going through their pipes. What they could do is, where it has been demonstrated their customers have abused rights holders’ intellectual property and we provide evidence of this, they should close the accounts of those particular customers.

Once people see you can’t use the internet for illegal activity, because you’ll lose your account, that will act as a deterrent.

Secondly, like the insurance industry, the ISPs could compile a register of customers that have been investigated and been found to be abusing the terms and conditions of the ISPs, whereupon they shouldn’t be conducting illegal activity.

Then these people would have no place to hide by going from one ISP to another.

So you’re effectively asking the ISPs to become judge and jury?

No, not at all. We would still have to go through the process of using forensic experts who are qualified and able to stand up in court and testify that evidence… is bona fide. It’s the same conditions under which the courts would accept it to issue a court order to the ISPs.

But the courts are used to handling such situations – an ISP won’t necessarily have the people in place to deal with it?

ISPs all have legal departments. They’re pretty savvy when it comes to the law.

With unsecured wireless accounts and file-sharers potentially falsifying their IP address, isn’t there a danger innocent people are going to find themselves cut off?

This is part of an education process now. There is so much protection available to people: if I use my wireless here, it will show three or four wireless networks around me, but they are heavily encrypted and it’s not possible to do it. The technology’s there to stop that happening.

Won’t determined file-sharers simply go and use public Wi-Fi hotspots instead?

We have to start somewhere. It’s a process of elimination. We put something into place and see if that reduces it. And if that reduces it but we still have a problem, we tease it out a little further.

The idea here is collaboration – let’s work together with the ISPs. I’ve made some suggestions off the top of my head that may be feasible, but might not be feasible, but from the rights holders’ point of view we think that could be done. The ISPs might say that can’t be done because of whatever… but it needs round-table discussion.

ISPs constantly complain that they are the first port of call when it comes to solving the internet’s problems. Do you have any sympathy for them?

The time’s come to stop hiding. We believe there are solutions that can be tried. We’re not saying they are the be all and end all, but let’s try them. All we get is this blank “oh no, we can’t be responsible.” And that’s wearing a bit thin now.

With the sums for software theft you regularly quote and the number of people file sharing, this is clearly a widespread problem. Are you happy to be backing a scheme that could see thousands of people lopped off the internet?

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